Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a novel of beauty and perseverance, which shows an unflinching view of Japan’s treatment of Koreans, both during the occupation of Korea and after World War II. The novel follows one family through four generations, starting in 1910 and finishing in 1989. If you could go back in time…
Yesterday, I heard the 3yo run out of the bathroom shouting, “There’s a crocodile in there!” ∞
More drawing in Photoshop.
When I was a child, I identified with Luke Skywalker like thousands of other children. Unlike many of those kids, it wasn’t just because Luke was the brave, young hero. I sought out meaning from Luke Skywalker, because to my mind, both our fathers were evil. His father of course was Darth Vader, enemy to the Rebel Alliance and master of the Dark Side of the Force. My father was Joseph Lepczyk, a man who killed himself when I was six-years-old. Joe financially and emotionally scarred our family to the point where we never really recovered.
The smell of vinegar and hot water, a reminder of my mom and weekends cleaning before play. ∞
I stand on black
water, like a navigator
at night, maps aglow
in lantern light, as the stars
wink out one by one.
Not sure how well this poem captures what I’m trying to express. With the death of my mom, it’s been like the reference point by which I find my way disappeared. Does that come through?
It’s taken the death of my mom to realize that our childhoods belong to our parents. Those moments spent in their care are made into memories much vaster than the collection of images and feelings one may retain from when a person was three-years-old. Sometimes, it feels as if my childhood happened to another person as the remove seems so great, as I’ve revised and edited my memories into a version that fits with who I am today. But, those are the memories of adolescence and teen, not those of a toddler.
I remember breaking my arm at three-years-old. Sledding with my brothers and disobeying them. Going down the big hill. Hitting a tree. Walking home in tears. Arm bent at an unnatural angle.
I remember that Christmas. Opening a present that contained cars and a track. I’m not sure if I remember wearing the red, cowboy hat or just the memory of the pictures from that time: me with a bruised face, arm in a cast, smiling from the joy of Christmas, beneath a red, felt cowboy hat with white piping.
I have a memory that feels more like a feeling as if there is an after-image on the inside of my skull. It’s my brothers and me in the back of our dad’s white, Mercedes convertible with the scratchy bench seat. It’s of autumn leaves with the top down. Him taking sharp turns. Us asking him to. And our bodies pushing into one another. Pulled by a force outside the car.
I vaguely remember making my mom cry. Cutting all of the leaves off her plants in the greenhouse. She loved plants. It was her favorite room in the house. I don’t know if our dad was dead or alive then, or if the tension between my parents and his disinterest in family were at play.
I can’t ask for clarification.
The keeper of those memories is gone. I’m left with these holes and questions that must remain. Or, I’ll need to revise and edit on my own. Create a truth or accept ambiguity.
There is the memory of a birthday party, a friend’s party, and ketchup being poured on the boy’s head, by accident, as his mom tried to get the ketchup to come out faster, patting the bottom of the bottle, pounding it, until tears, a party ruined with laughter and embarrassment.
Memories from when I was five or six, before my dad died, of me and a neighbor friend hiding in the ditch and throwing rocks at cars as they drove by. Someone stopped. They got out. They chased us. I ran all the way home. Hid in the cabinet underneath a bathroom sink. My dad found me. Or maybe it was my mom. Maybe it is both of them separately, yet unified, both versions being correct.
I remember parts of our move to Traverse City. I think we looked at a house that had a playhouse in the basement, but that we all thought was creepy and possibly haunted. But, that could have been another move, the one from East Lansing to Haslett. What I do remember is holding my brother’s hand as we walked to school. I was in first grade. Some boys whom we would dislike from that day forward yelled faggot at us and threw snowballs.
Now that I’m a parent, I try not to take for granted the role I have in my children’s lives. They won’t remember the determination with which they approached crawling. How they used to call blueberries, bluebrees or bounce to Diana Ross. My own adult memory is not so great, but it will be there as a back up, a clarification if needed.
Was it you or Mom who took me to the emergency room late at night? I remember wearing my pajamas, you might say.
It was me. We drove there with the windows down. Your sister was a baby. Mom needed to stay home with her until your uncle came over. We were so scared. Your breathing sounded terrible. Your mom arrived before we went back to the hospital room. You laid on my chest in the hospital bed. You were upset they didn’t give you a popsicle. I can’t remember if they gave you a shot or not. They did an x-ray. You cried when the board that was propped behind you fell down and bumped your head. We took you home. You were better. You can ask your mom what else happened.
It was me. It wasn’t me. If we both wanted to hold you tight, does it matter who did?
Tears. Driving with the windows down. The sound of the wind in the car. My mom or dad holding me close. I wanted a popsicle, but maybe they didn’t have any? Strawberry was my favorite.
My mom’s piano was a source of comfort for her, as well as a source of income. When she purchased it a few years before my birth, she never thought she’d end up being a piano teacher. Our family lived in East Lansing. My mom and dad ran a small business auctioning rare coins. When my mom told me the story about the piano, I assumed it had always been in the family, that it was Grandpa’s and was passed down to Mom. My grandfather loved to play show tunes on their piano and had a fine voice as well.
No, my mom, said. It wasn’t Grandpa’s piano. It was a Saturday morning and I was up early. I just sat down with my cup of coffee and the newspaper when I spotted the ad in the classifieds. This was before Craigslist and I’d always take a look to see what was for sale. Your brothers were still asleep and I was so excited, because I knew it would sell fast.
I wondered, mom said, how early could I call them?
At this point, I think my mom left my brothers with our dad and went to look at the piano.
Mom said, it was covered up with a tarp in an old carriage house. I had to drive down an alley where I met a man and a woman. The piano was wonderful. It needed tuning, of course; but, it was exactly what I’d been looking for. I asked the two about the piano.
Well, the woman said, our grandparents bought the piano; but never played it. Our mom was in love with a jazz musician and our grandparents didn’t approve. They tried breaking them up and finally told our mom they’d buy her a grand piano if she ended things.
Did she, my mom asked?
I imagine the two smiling here. Perhaps, the man and the woman share a looking.
No, the woman said, the jazz musician is our father and Mom ran away with him to Chicago. Her parents had bought the piano, but just had it set in the carriage house when it was delivered. Never even came into the house. So, you interested?
How it was moved, who moved it, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that baby grand piano was an outlet for my mom. I’d wake up on a Saturday morning to the sounds of sonatas played with emotion, as if in the music she could either escape or reconcile the death of her husband, the slide from middle class to poverty, the weight of three boys that she alone needed to carry. At the time, I couldn’t have seen that. A child of seven or eight, I heard the power in the music and waited for the song to finish. Then I’d walk into the living room, the light from the picture window shone on my mom. It was like a spell ended. My mom returned from wherever she’d gone. Her arms around me, a feeling of warmth.
Sitting in the airport for a 6 am flight and feeling the most sad I’ve felt this whole trip. We scattered my mom’s ashes in the places that meant the most to her in the Upper Peninsula, the places where she could relax and breath easier. There were sad moments at times, but it wasn’t too bad.
Leaving Traverse City, I’m left wondering when I’ll be back. I have no idea. With my mom gone it feels like there is less of a connection to the place where I grew up. It’s more fragile.
I stopped by her house, our old house, on my way to the airport. The darkened house was overplayed with images of my mom sitting on her front steps, watching me go.
It’s sad leaving this beautiful place full of beaches, lakes, rivers and woods. It feels like home. But, will it always feel that way?